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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Verified accounts on Twitter shared more content from deceptive websites than ever in 2020, according to new research from the German Marshall Fund shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: Verified accounts are supposed to help social media users seek out trustworthy information and know who they're hearing from. If verified users constantly share false information, it defeats the purpose and reinforces false narratives.

On Facebook, interactions with deceptive content are also at an all-time high. GMF measured overall interactions on that platform, not just from verified accounts.

  • GMF defines "deceptive content" as false or manipulative according to NewsGuard, a service that ranks websites on their reliability.

Between the lines: The findings underscore the uncomfortable reality that certain conservative media outlets tend to be among the most unapologetic purveyors of false or misleading information, with Daily Wire, Newsmax, The Federalist and Gateway Pundit all ranking as deceptive sites.

By the numbers: Deceptive content has steadily grown in popularity since 2016, according to GMF's research.

  • In Q4 2020, GMF measured 1.2 billion interactions with deceptive sites on Facebook. In Q4 2019, that number was 941 million.
  • In Q4 2020, GMF measured verified accounts sharing (tweeting or retweeting) material from deceptive sites on Twitter 47 million times, up from 28 million in the prior-year period.

What's happening: False information about the election outcome and COVID-19 mostly drove the increase in shares of deceptive information, the research shows, with more people engaging with deceptive information than ever in the past.

  • Overall, engagement with deceptive sites is more than 2x higher than before the 2016 presidential election, though GMF credits Facebook for limiting spread of deceptive content to a certain extent by boosting more reliable information after the election.

What they're saying: "This month's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol demonstrates why we need to change the incentives of social media platforms immediately to boost trustworthy information and slow the spread of disinformation," said Karen Kornbluh, who leads GMF's Digital New Deal project.

  • "If we don’t, democracy and public health will be undermined further in 2021."

Go deeper

App rush: Talent over trash

Data: Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Amid the sea of pollution on social media, another class of apps is soaring in popularity: The creators are paid, putting a premium on talent instead of just noise.

The big picture: Creator-economy platforms like Patreon, Substack and OnlyFans are built around content makers who are paid. It's a contrast to platforms like Facebook that are mostly powered by everyday users’ unpaid posts and interactions.

4 hours ago - World

In photos: Protests in U.S., across the world over Israeli–Palestinian conflict

A protest march in support of Palestinians near the Washington monument in Washington, D.C. on May 15. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of people rallied across the U.S. and the world Saturday following days of violence in Gaza and Israel that's killed at least 145 Palestinians, including 41 children, and eight Israelis, per AP.

The big picture: Most demonstrations were in support of Palestinians. There were tense scenes between pro-Israeli government protesters and pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Winnipeg, Canada, and Leipzig, Germany, but no arrests were made, CBS News and DW.com report.

Updated 11 hours ago - World

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials.

The big picture: At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.

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